DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Diego Maradona was fired as Al Wasl coach Tuesday after a disappointing season in which the former Argentina great failed to win a title for the Dubai club.
Maradona had one year left on his contract, but the club’s board of directors met Tuesday and issued a statement saying the former World Cup winner and his technical staff had been immediately relieved of their duties. Maradona, who was on vacation and not in Dubai, could not be reached for comment. A replacement for Maradona was not announced.
“Following a meeting … held today to evaluate the technical staff of Al Wasl football team under the leadership of coach Diego Maradona, it was decided to terminate his services and his technical staff,” the board said in its statement, parts of which were also put on its Twitter feed.
Expectations were great when Maradona arrived in Dubai on a two-year deal in May 2011. He was popular with fans and helped put United Arab Emirates football on the map, but his team finished eighth in the 12-team league and failed to either qualify for next season’s Asian Champions League nor win any domestic titles.
The final straw appears to have been the team’s failure to win a second-tier competition called the GCC Champions League at the end of the season after winning the first leg of the final against Bahrain’s Al Muharraq 3-1.
Al Wasl returned home and expectations were high that Maradona would win his first trophy as club manager. Team President Sheik Ahmed bin Rashid Al Maktoum – a brother of the Dubai ruler – even turned up for the first time this season to join the expected celebration.
But the Bahraini club won the match 3-1 against a nine-man Al Wasl, after two players including the goalkeeper were sent off for headbutting opponents. With the teams even at 4-4 on aggregate, Al Muharraq won the title 5-4 on penalties.
The loss led to the board of directors resigning and fueled speculation that Maradona would quit. Among those who left were Marwan bin Bayat, who led the board and was instrumental in signing Maradona. The new board chairman Mohammad Ahmad bin Fahad had to dismiss reports last month that Maradona had resigned as a “mistake.”
Maradona joined Al Wasl following his firing as the Argentina national team coach. Argentina had mixed results during his reign, which included two of its worst losses – a 6-1 rout by Bolivia in World Cup qualifying and a 4-0 quarterfinal loss to Germany during the 2010 tournament in South Africa.
Before taking over as coach of Argentina in 2008, he coached Argentine first-division sides Deportivo Mandiyu in 1994 and Racing Club in 1995.
While Maradona didn’t deliver results on the pitch, his dramatic flair will definitely be missed in a league that has long been overshadowed by those in other parts of the Gulf and across Asia.
After his first victory at Al Wasl, the 1986 World Cup winner was forced to apologize after kicking the hand of fan who had repeatedly interfered as he was posing for a photo in front of a banner from his grandson, Benjamin.
There was more controversy after a particularly tough loss to Al Ain. Maradona accused Al Ain coach Cosmin Olaroiu of being rude and disrespectful for the way he celebrated a goal. The Romanian coach shot back that Maradona didn’t have a “clear mind.” Maradona was later fined by the league, but continued to take shots at Olaroiu – even refusing to shake hands when the teams met again.
At another match, the bearded and diamond stud-wearing Maradona charged into the stands to confront Al Shabab fans who were taunting his partner, Veronica Ojeda, and the wives of several players. He had to be restrained by security staff and later described the fans as “cowards” for heckling the women.
Off the pitch, Maradona avoided the public eye and spent much of his time holed up at his villa – a sharp contrast to a man who battled a cocaine habit even before he retired in 1997 and once fired an air gun at reporters outside his home and was threatened with jail. He seemed to miss his family, repeatedly hinting toward the end of the season that he might not want return if the club didn’t bring in some fresh talent.
And as the losses piled up toward the end of the season, he lamented the lack of talented players but refused to accept responsibility for the team’s troubles. He insisted he had done all he could with the players he was given and that he would be “sad” if he had to leave without being able to finish what he started.
“I was supposed to come here and meant to work and work hard and achieve something,” he said at a news conference earlier this year. “It’s not about Maradona coming here and rating him as being success or unsuccessful. My intention was not to come here and have an easy going time and spend it on the beach. I’m very happy to be here. It’s a good chance for me. I believe in living in the moment.”